A new Muslim group plans to name and shame supporters of extremism within the community, saying political correctness about the threat from jihadi terrorism is helping fuel an anti-Muslim backlash in Western countries, including the United States.
The Muslim Reform Movement grew out of a summit this week of leaders of groups that were already fighting extremism. Organizers said deadly terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., added new urgency to the effort.
"Let's get rid of political correctness and grab this problem by the root," said Naser Khader, a conservative member of Denmark's parliament, in a panel discussion Thursday at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "It is important to draw a line between the Islamic religion and Islamism."
Khader and other members of the group on Friday released a declaration of principles calling on Muslims to reject violent jihad and endorse religious freedom for all and secular government, and saying they will call out those who reject it.
"We reject the idea of an Islamic state," Khader said.
In imitation of Christian reformer Martin Luther, the group's members plan to take copies of the declaration and post them on the doors of their local mosques.
"If they reject them then we know they're on the side of the problem," said Zuhdi Jasser, president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, at a news conference at which the declaration was unveiled.
The group's efforts are likely to be welcomed by Republicans, who have harshly criticized the Obama administration for rejecting any Islamic dimension to the fight against the Islamic State and other Islamist terror groups. As they had with previous attacks, White House officials refused Friday to label the San Bernardino attack as Islamist terror, bringing renewed criticism.
"Unfortunately, President Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are at war with radical Islamist terrorists. This misjudgment and his lack of a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS will continue to imperil the lives of Americans," said Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., chairman of a congressional task force on terrorism.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the administration needs to wake up to the "crowd-sourcing" of domestic terrorism by the Islamic State and al Qaeda through the spread of extremist ideology.
"We must adapt and develop a long-term strategy to name and defeat our enemy. That enemy is not the empty label 'extremism' but the ideology of militant Islam."
But the reformist group faces opposition not only from extremist supporters and apologists within the Muslim community, but also from many non-Muslims on the political Left who reject the idea that there's a difference between the political ideology of Islamism and the Islamic faith.
Jasser's activism against Islamist theocracy already has landed him a prominent role in what the left-wing Center for American Progress calls the "Islamophobia network." In a report released Feb. 11, the group said Jasser "promotes conspiratorial claims that America is infiltrated by radical Muslims."
The Obama administration and many prominent Democratic politicians also have largely snubbed efforts by reformist Muslims, preferring instead to deal with groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, which have ties to Islamist movements. Though its leaders vigorously deny extremist sympathies or ties, CAIR stands accused of being founded by supporters of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestinian branch and a banned terrorist organization in the United States. The group's Brotherhood ties prompted the government of the United Arab Emirates last year to place it on a list of banned terrorist organizations.
When a group of Democratic House members on Friday attended prayer services at a Virginia mosque to show solidarity with U.S. Muslims amid fears of an intense backlash in reaction to the Paris and California attacks, they chose one with several connections to prominent Islamist extremists.
Some of the men who launched the Sept. 11 attacks worshiped at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, as did Nidal Hasan, the former Army psychologist convicted in the November 2009 terrorist attack at Fort Hood, Texas. It was at Dar al-Hijrah where Hasan became acquainted with Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born al Qaeda leader in Yemen killed in 2011 by order of President Obama after multiple attempts to launch terrorist attacks on the United States. Awlaki was an imam, or prayer leader, at the mosque.
Reform Muslims say this failure to clearly draw a line between the Islamist ideology and the religion of Islam is fueling anti-Muslim hatred among people who confuse the two.
The best way to tamp down a backlash, said Jasser, is for Americans and others in the West to see Muslims taking the lead in the ideological struggle against the Islamic State and other groups.
"Ultimately, I think this is the best treatment for that problem," he said.